Cowboys Vets In The Secondary, Linebacking Corps: Improvement Needed

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Let's talk about some veterans instead of some rookies.

We've spent a lot of time talking about rookies lately, both drafted and undrafted. The Cowboys, and us, are counting on that group to add a much-needed infusion of talent and energy to the team. If all works out as planned, they will. But another way the Cowboys could get better is simply by having some of its holdover veterans play better, especially on defense. The secondary is a good place to start.

Brandon Carr thinks he will be a better player this year. As OCC noted in the morning news post, he wants to take over the league. All good, but I'd settle for just playing up to his $50.1 million contract.

"Trying to take over the league," Carr said Sunday night at the Taste of the NFL event at the Gaylord Texan. "I get emotional when I say that because I'm dead serious, man. I've been playing this game for six years now. I'm just ready to make that jump and become that shutdown corner... Now it's time to step up and take charge and get my guys ready to go on Sundays."

Carr said he's dropped 10 pounds in the offseason by training a different way. He was listed at 206 pounds last season. The hope is the lighter he is, the faster he plays. "I'm still learning myself as a person and as an athlete to where I feel like this is the best shape and the best I've ever looked as a football player," Carr said.

"This is a game I love and I've been playing it for a very long time and I've invested so much into this game," Carr said. "Sometimes you get sick and tired of losing and you just get fed up with a lot of things going on, and now it's just time to take the reins and take over and take control."

I like the sentiment, the words are encouraging, but we need to see actions on the field. If Carr doesn't start playing up to his contract in 2014, it could be his last season in Dallas.

Next up, his running mate at corner, Morris Claiborne. The Cowboys gave up a lot to get Claiborne, famously trading up in the first round and giving up a second-round pick in the process. Those players taken with the traded picks turned out to be Michael Brockers and Alshon Jeffrey. That's some quality talent. Claiborne being beat out by Orlando Scandrick and relegated to the nickel-corner wasn't what Dallas had in mind.

"Obviously when you're drafted that high you want him to be your guy, right, again we hope he becomes that guy," secondary coach Jerome Henderson said of Claiborne. "We hope he becomes that guy; that you look out there no matter what guy it is he’s out there guarding somebody, locking them up." Henderson said he still believes in Claiborne.

While Carr is getting lighter in hopes of improving, Claiborne is going the other way.

This offseason, Claiborne has worked harder to bulk up so he can deal with the physical play in the NFL. The Cowboys want their corners to be aggressive, jam receivers at the line, and be ready to make good, strong open-field tackles. Claiborne battled numerous injuries in his first two seasons. During last week's rookie minicamp, Claiborne emerged from the weight room and smiled at a few reporters to say hi. He looked bigger, but whether that translates to more plays on the field is uncertain.

The other spot in the secondary that could use some improved play is at safety opposite Barry Church. J.J. Wilcox is going to get the first shot at it.

It seems when the first-team defense takes the field for practices this offseason, Wilcox will get the call alongside strong safety Barry Church. "Right now Wilcox is in the driver's seat," secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. "He has the first opportunity to solidify [the spot] and we are hopeful that he does. But we know behind him we have some hungry guys."

Finally, there's Bruce Carter at the Will linebacker. We all thought that the switch to the Tampa-2 would be a boon to Carter's play, his skills at the Will linebacker seemed like a perfect fit. That didn't work out. And Rod Marinelli is making no bones about the fact he needs to get his act together.

"I don’t do confidence stuff," said Marinelli, who was promoted to defensive coordinator this offseason. "Get down and play. Get down and play. Here’s your assignment key. We want you to play fast and we want you to take the ball away."

"Go play," Marinelli said. "It’s a man’s game, man. Play it the right way. That’s what I want. We’re going to coach it. We’ll coach you hard. Be where you’re supposed to be. This is what we expect. And then go."

You can't get much more blunt than that.

So BTB, which of these guys will succeed, and which ones will be doomed to the bench and eventual release?

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